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According to the Centers for Disease Control, 530 people have now suffered some vaping-related illness and seven have died. As those numbers are climbing, the Food and Drug Administration has opened a criminal investigation into the surge in sicknesses. This announcement comes on the heels of the Trump administration's efforts to clamp down on e-cigarettes and vaping products aimed at children. More than half of the victims have been under the age of 25.
"Even though cases appear similar, it is not clear if these cases have a common cause or if they are different diseases with similar presentations, which is why our ongoing investigation is critical," the FDA announced. "CDC and the FDA are providing consultation to state health departments and working closely with them to gather information on any products or substances used." What could this mean for civil liability for vaping illnesses and deaths?
The FDA has assured people that it is not looking to prosecute individual users, but is looking for information regarding what kind of vape products they used. "The focus is on the supply chain," Mitch Zeller, director of the FDA's Center for Tobacco Products said. "We're very alarmed about products containing THC."
While all the reported victims had a history of e-cigarette or vaping use, the specific product they were inhaling has varied. Most people admitted to using e-cigarette products containing THC, many said they used both nicotine and THC, and some reported using only nicotine products. Many also said the THC products they used were purchased illegally or on the black market.
"There may be a problem with source material or modification that may be occurring at different places," Anne Schuchat, the CDC's principal deputy director, told reporters, adding that while the CDC is "working around the clock" to pinpoint what is making people sick, "it may take some time" before that is possible.
The wide range of illnesses and products used makes it even more difficult to identify a single culprit, and officials from the FDA's forensics lab affirmed that they have not identified a single e-cigarette product or substance as the source of the illnesses and deaths. That will also complicate personal injury or wrongful deaths claims based on product liability, especially if the product was purchased illicitly.
If you've been sickened by an e-cigarette or vaping product, seek medical attention immediately and share information with health officials to try and determine the exact cause. Then, you may want to talk to an experienced product liability attorney about your possible legal claims.